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Adware and spyware and how to remove them

An epidemic of uninvited guests

One of the recurring problems I encounter is spyware and adware. When helping home or other casual Windows users with performance problems on their Windows XP systems, I frequently encounter programs that have installed themselves without the users' knowledge - invariably, I hear "I have no idea how that got there."

Upon inspection, I often find a variety of 'hidden' program set to run when the computer is started. These unwelcome and uninvited guests pests bring a variety of problems with them, so it's always best to eliminate them from the computer whenever possible.


What is adware?

Adware is software that is designed to display advertisements while you use your computer, at times when you would not ordinarily see ads.

Do you frequently see pop-up windows containing ads while using your computer even though you are not browsing the internet using your web browser? That's adware. The ads are being displayed by a special program that has been installed on your computer with or without your explicit knowledge.

In my experience, adware is becoming less prevalent, but it may still be lurking out there.

What is spyware?

Spyware is more pernicious - it's a program that is running on your computer, sometimes invisibly, other times as part some other program that you may think is providing useful features - but in reality, the main purpose of the program is to monitor your activities - such as web pages you visit - and report them back to the program's maker.

One common ploy is to attach spyware to nifty and helfpul sounding programs, like a 'search helper', 'browser toolbar', or a 'special offers' program that appear to provide some kind of benefit to the user - but in reality, it's really an enticement to get you to download and install the program on your computer.

Why does spyware exist? Because there are companies that make money by selling the data generated by the spyware - web surfing habits, statistics, and what have you.

Removing adware and spyware

I usually rely on Autoruns and Process Explorer, both available from Sysinternals and in some cases, Ad Aware, and Spybot S&D, along with other tools.

Usually, running a combination of Ad Aware and Spybot S&D will catch most of the typical junk. I then follow up using Autoruns and see what's configured to start up on the system - if anything suspicious remains installed on the system, I dig deeper - it is possible for these pests to hook themselves into the system in various sneaky and stealthy ways, in order to avoid being disabled or removed - this is a sure sign that they are unwelcome guests, indeed.


  • Ad-Aware
  • Spybot S&D
  • HiJack This!
  • Sysinternals Autoruns
  • Sysinternals Process Explorer

(links coming soon)


*NOTE: All information contained herein is provided for educational purposes only. Exodus Development, Inc. disclaims all liability for use or misuse of the information presented herein or on external web sites. Use your own good judgement, ask an expert first. Proceed at your own risk.